By Carola Meusel
USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs Office
This time of year, most Americans start thinking about Thanksgiving and a turkey dinner. Germans, however, think about St. Martin’s Day and goose.
St. Martin’s Day is celebrated on Nov. 11 in honor of Martin, a Roman legionnaire who converted to Christianity, became a monk, and in 372 A.D., the bishop of Tours, France.
Legend has it that on a cold winter night, Martin was traveling on his horse when he spotted a freezing beggar. He felt compassion for the beggar and divided his coat into two pieces and shared it with the poor man. With this kind gesture, Martin saved the beggar’s life and became the patron saint of charity.
Based on this legend, people all over Germany celebrate St. Martin’s Day, or “Martini Day,” each year with parades, the lighting of the Martin’s fire and reenactments of the legend. Kindergarten and elementary school children craft lanterns and rehearse St. Martin songs for weeks. During the evening of Nov. 11, the children then light their lanterns to stroll through neighborhood streets with family and friends.
Many German traditions relate to food, as does St. Martin’s Day. According to the legend, when pious and humble Martin heard the news that he was chosen to be the next bishop of Tours, he hid in a goose stall. The geese chattered loudly when Martin entered their territory, signaling his location. The people of Tours found him immediately and appointed Martin bishop.
Eating a goose meal, then, is a way to honor St. Martin. At least that’s one version of the legend. Timo Böckle, chef at the “Zum Reussenstein” restaurant in Böblingen, shared a medieval account of the goose tradition.
According to Böckle, Nov. 11 marked the beginning of a 40-day fasting period before Christmas. After Nov. 11, people were not to eat meat or indulge in other heavy foods.
“Farmers were also required to pay their yearly leases on Nov. 11. Many times the lease was paid with a goose, instead of real money,” Böckle said.
To this day, the tradition of serving Martin’s goose, whether based on legend or other customs, continues across Germany. But when it comes to the preparation of the bird, northern and southern Germany part ways. In northern Germany, the goose is stuffed with a mixture of ground pork, onions, garlic and various herbs.
In southern Germany, the goose is stuffed with bread, chestnuts, roasted nuts, apples, plums, sugar, salt, vinegar and red wine, according to Böckle.
These days, for convenience, most restaurants serve goose legs (Gänsekeule) instead of the whole bird. The goose is accompanied by red cabbage and dumplings.
“At the Zum Reussenstein restaurant, the stewed goose leg is served with elderflower red cabbage with honey and bread dumplings with melted butter,” Böckle said.
For most people in Germany, the Martin’s goose dinner is the perfect way to begin the holiday season.
“Besides, it’s also a way to insulate for the upcoming winter months,” Böckle said.
Where to get your goose
Most restaurants in the area serve Martin’s goose meals, however, the restaurants below are conveniently located near U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart installations. Keep in mind that reservations are required for all Martin’s goose meals.
Zum Reussenstein: Goose will be served a la carte in November. After Dec. 15, through Christmas, people must pre-order their goose at least two days before the goose meal. For reservations, call civ. 07031-66-000. Zum Reussenstein is located at Kalkofenstrasse 20, 71032 Böblingen (near Panzer Kaserne).
Neuer Pfefferer: Goose will be served a la carte until Christmas. For reservations, call civ. 0711-5413-39. The restaurant is located at Am Schnarrenberg 14, 70376 Stuttgart (near Robinson Barracks).
Wirtshaus Garbe: Goose will be served a la carte until Dec. 23. For reservations, call civ. 0711-342-1180. The restaurant is located at Filderhauptstrasse 136, 70599 Stuttgart-Plieningen (near Kelley Barracks).
Restaurant Römerhof/Kulinarium: Goose will be served a la carte until Christmas. For reservations, call 0711-68-7880. Römerhof is located at Robert-Leicht-Strasse 93, 70563 Stuttgart-Vaihingen (near Patch Barracks).